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What is The Beatles best selling studio album?

Releasing a double album was considered commercially foolhardy in 1968. LPs, as they were then called, were much more expensive than they are today. A double album seemed to price out the teenagers, still considered The Beatles main market.

There were other seemingly quixotic features. Officially called The Beatles it was immediately dubbed The White Album because of its distinctive Richard Hamilton designed cover. This went down a storm with art students but marketing executives were less impressed. They reasonably concluded that there were not enough art students to create the sales need for a gold record.

'What has happened to the Yeah-Yeahs?

Nor did The White Album  attempt to reach out to those not yet bitten by the Beatle bug. There were no singles to entice the casual record buyer. All the material was new to most listeners. Even trend-setting disc jockeys were wrong-footed by the sheer scale of the musical experimentation. 

And the number of tracks - an unheard of twenty eight. Of these a few of McCartney's were upbeat and immediately catchy (Blackbird and Back in the USSR). 

Some other tracks were strikingly less radio friendly. When John and Yoko played Revolution 9 to Paul he was flabbergasted. And Paul was an active fan of avant garde classical music. 

Floperoo?

The previous album, Magical Mystery Tour had been seen as a relative failure, both in terms of sales and critical reaction.  They were now under pressure to prove that they were not past their best.

The omens were not good. From their unsmiling faces the four were in a decidedly unfab frame of mind. It seemed that that they had returned from India with rather less peace and love than anticipated. 

Rumours from the studio were similarly discouraging. Individual Beatles were wandering in and out of Abbey Road at all hours, clearly not keen on hanging out with each other. They were pulling rank on George Martin, who was reduced to sitting in his booth reading his newspaper. Engineer Geoff Emerick became so upset by the poisonous atmosphere that he resigned mid recording

The knives were ready for what appeared likely to be an epic flop.

In fact, The Beatles (1968) (The White Album) would become their biggest selling studio album. It has sold over 24 million copies. 

Key to success

In the 1960s the sales of single greatly outnumbered those of albums. This ratio began reversing in the early 1970s, with the mass adoption of stereo. All Beatles albums sold well, but the later ones were particularly well placed.

The advent of CDs - where length was no longer closely linked to manufacturing cost - also benefited The Beatles. New generations of record buyers were not discouraged by the purchase price, now much lower in relative terms.


The increase in streaming at the expense of CD sales has affected The Beatles commercial value. Only two songs feature in the Top 20 most streamed Beatles tracks: Blackbird (7) and While My Guitar Gently Weeps (13).

George Martin has ultimately been proved right. People love the strongest songs on The White Album - but most of us could lose a few tracks: Revolution 1, Revolution 9, Don't Pass Me By and Piggies, in my case.

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